“A Martial Koan” by Charles Warren

This is a real martial koan, “how do you teach “the real thing” and still pay the rent?” The problem goes back to Musashi, “…the flower is valued above the fruit…” Musashi solved the problem by ending his days living in a cave. I enjoy the hospitality of a hapkido school at the moment, but also train in the park.

But the real cost-benefit analysis of martial arts gets lost because so many of both are not monetary. How do you value the fitness supported by training? How do you value the small victory of avoiding a mugger, or even of defeating three? How do you cost out the time involved in keiko?

O Sensei was fortunate in patronage. He was also fortunate that the senior students and his son set the art on a business-like basis after martial arts were legalized again. For that matter, we’re fortunate.

There was a book, “Giving Up The Gun” about the centuries in which Japan closed itself to foreigners. It doesn’t point out the heirarchic nature of the shogunate and the arbitrary power the sword gave the samurai class. It does note the inconsistency between traditional martial arts and modern, even renaissance, weaponry.

The bow prevailed against the crossbow because of rate of fire and expense. The crossbow could pierce armor and was relatively easy to learn, but cost a lot. When muskets came along the rate of fire was higher, the cost lower, and learning was easy. The bow in the hand of a skilled archer could reliably kill at 50 yards and often at 100. The musket was much less accurate, but could be learned in weeks rather than years. With the growth of urbanization, general wealth, and by taxation the State, the advantage of home-made weaponry was eroded. Gibbons’* “armed and stubborn Commons” which defended the British Empire from the fate of Rome was marginalized by Enclosure and industrialization. In 1812 there were as many troops deployed inside England to control labor agitation as there were in Portugal fighting Napoleon. Disarmament of the British populace was more of a response to the threat of revolution than to crime. But this is all an aside.

In real situations the average hit rate of professionals (police) using handguns is on the order of 10-15 in 100 rounds. Now we see books with titles like “Shooting From Within”. In practical pistol competition, those with experience in the use of guns in the contest do better than those without. Now there’s “3-gun” in which the shooter is not allowed to stand still while shooting. Those who tap into the essentials of the situation win. The “do” of firearms.

Richard Burton (African explorer, 19th century) maintained that a sword was useful to deal with close threats while the pistol was for those outside sword range. He was proficient with the pistol and a master with the saber. Another consideration in the era was that the pistol had five or six shots, depending on whether one chamber was left empty for safety. Now pistols can carry as many as twenty rounds. Somebody has come up with a new style spring that can extend a standard size magazine to that capacity. So, swords are no longer fashion accessories and what happens to simple hand-to-hand?

All this rambling is around the paradox of technical devices and their employment. Musashi said that mastery in one thing enables mastery in many. I don’t shoot very often. Would be a better shot if I did. But usually shoot better than most everybody else on the line. I can’t legally carry arms in San Francisco. The DA threatens maximum prosecution for anyone caught armed. I can’t leave my martial spirit at home in a locked box. To what extent is martial spirit and the clarity brought by training a substitute for armament? To what extent is it essential for the effective use of armament?

– Chuck

*”The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire”

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